Didn’t We Just Do This? Recent PCA Proposals to Ordain Women to Church Office – Part 1

“The question of the role of women in the Church is not a new or unstudied issue….the proposed study committee is unlikely to break new ground or shed new insights” (37th GA, 2009).

One of the contentions of the CMC is that the PCA has a history of passivity and even resistance to discussing the role of women in the church. However, a review of recent history will attest to the fact that the PCA does not have a history of passivity in discussing the role of women in the church; in fact, quite the opposite. The issues of the role of women in the church and women in office were occasions for long and serious debates, especially between 2000-2011.

 

The Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has proposed a recommendation to the 44th General Assembly that it form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church.

Here is the proposed recommendation that is being presented through the Administrative Committee (AC) to the PCA GA:

That –

  • The Assembly form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church (RAO 9-1; 9-3). The Assembly authorizes the Moderator to appoint the study committee. The study committee should be made up of competent men and women representing the diversity of opinions within the PCA (RAO 9-1; Robert’s Rules of Order [11th edition], §13, pp. 174-175, §50, pp.495- 496, §50, pp. 497-498 §56, p. 579]).
  • The committee should give particular attention to the issues of:
  • The biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination;
  • The biblical nature and function of the office of deacon;
  • Clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses;
  • Should the findings of the study committee warrant BCO changes, the study committee will propose such changes for the General Assembly to consider.
  • The committee will have a budget of $15,000 that is funded by designated donations to the AC from churches and individuals (RAO 9-2).
  • A Pastoral Letter to be proposed by the ad interim study committee and approved by the General Assembly be sent to all churches, encouraging them to (1) promote the practice of women in ministry, (2) appoint women to serve alongside elders and deacons in the pastoral work of the church, and (3) hire women on church staff in appropriate ministries.

Grounds: The Cooperative Ministries Committee may not make recommendations directly to the General Assembly but must do so through an appropriate committee or agency (RAO 7-3 c; 7-6). The CMC has had a subcommittee on the role of women and has sent several recommendations to the AC (including a proposal for a study committee on the issue women serving in the church) and CDM to bring to the Assembly[1].

One of the contentions of the CMC is that the PCA has a history of passivity and even resistance to discussing the role of women in the church. However, a review of recent history will attest to the fact that the PCA does not have a history of passivity in discussing the role of women in the church; in fact, quite the opposite. The issues of the role of women in the church and women in office were occasions for long and serious debates, especially between 2000-2011.

The PCA had numerous discussions at each level of its church courts. The following from General Assembly minutes highlights the debate on the role of women in the church’s ministry and women in office.

From the 2008 GA (Min36GA, pp. 204-208)

36-52 Report of the Overtures Committee (continued from 36-47, pp. 178-97)

The chairman led the Assembly in prayer and resumed the report. Recommendation 9 was moved, and the Minority Report was moved as a substitute. A point of order was raised that the Minority Report be ruled out of order since it contradicts BCO 7-2, 9-3, 7.

The Moderator ruled that the point of order is not well taken, in that the Minority Report is only seeking opinions. The ruling of the chair was sustained by a vote of 518-369. Following RAO 15-8.f, the Chairman addressed the Assembly, followed by TE Chapell speaking in support of the Minority Report, and the Chairman responding. Debate was closed by a vote of 420-467. The Chairman had the last word, and the Minority Report as a substitute was defeated

Recommendation 9 was adopted.

  1. That Overture 9 (“Erect Study Committee on Deaconesses”) be answered in the negative, and that presbyteries are reminded that appropriate ways to bring these issues before the Assembly are through presbytery overtures to amend the BCO, or by way of reference (BCO 41). Adopted

Grounds: BCO 7-2, chapter 9, and especially 9-7, provide a sufficient answer to the issues contemplated in Overture 9; the presbyteries should work through the implications in their own local contexts. This is always subject to the actions noted in the text of the response.

OVERTURE 9 from Philadelphia Presbytery (to CCB and OC)

“Erect Study Committee on Deaconesses”

Whereas, Crossroads Community Church Presbyterian Church in America, a member church, filed a complaint (attached hereto as Exhibit A) with the Philadelphia Presbytery in accord with BCO 43-2 against the action of the Philadelphia Presbytery approving a candidate for licensure who took exception, with respect to the office of deacon, to the provision of BCO 7-2 that states “In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only”; and

Whereas, the 35th General Assembly’s review of presbytery records cited an exception of substance (attached hereto as Exhibit B) for the Philadelphia Presbytery for liberti Church as follows “Diaconate of new church includes 4 Deaconesses commissioned contrary to BCO 9-3 [S]”; and

Whereas, liberti Church responded to the General Assembly’s citation by submitting to the Philadelphia Presbytery an Overture (attached hereto as Exhibit C) to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America asking for a change to the BCO to allow the election of women to the office of deacon equal with men and the freedom to either ordain both or commission both men and women called to that office; and

Whereas, the Philadelphia Presbytery has noted a variety of differences among churches across the PCA and within NAPARC regarding the involvement of women in Diaconal ministries;

Now Therefore, the Philadelphia Presbytery overtures the 36th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to create an ad interim study committee whose members are representative of various positions within the PCA with respect to women’s involvement in Diaconal ministry, to study and report back to the 37th  General Assembly, on the following:

  • Scriptural teaching bearing on women’s eligibility for election and ordination to the office of deacon and recommending, if necessary, changes to the BCO in keeping with any findings proceeding from the study of Scripture; and
  • Should no changes to the BCO be deemed necessary, clarifying an appropriate range of practices for the involvement of women in diaconal ministry and giving guidance regarding current differences in practice among PCA churches including but not limited to the following: (a) may churches choose not to ordain any male deacons? (b) may churches choose to commission but not to ordain male deacons? (c) may women be commissioned as deaconesses without ordaining them as deacons? (d) may the same constitutional questions, or similar questions, used to ordain deacons be used to commission deacons or deaconesses who are not ordained? (e) may Presbyteries license and ordain men who submit themselves to the BCO but who also believe that women should serve as ordained deacons? (f) may churches elect ordained men and commissioned women to serve together in the diaconate? and (g) may churches use the title Deaconess for an elected position of ministry in the church or selected to serve according to BCO9-7?

And further, that any expenses for this ad interim study committee be funded through designated gifts through the Administrative Committee with expenses not to exceed $10,000. (RAO 9-2, 11-11).

Adopted by the Philadelphia Presbytery, at the called meeting on January 26, 2008, and reaffirmed at our stated meeting on February 10, 2008.

Attested by /s/ Gregory C. Hobaugh, Stated Clerk

MINORITY REPORT OVERTURES COMMITTEE

Relating to Overture 9 from Philadelphia Presbytery The minority of the Overtures Committee recommends that the 36th General Assembly of the PCA respond to Overture 9 from Philadelphia Presbytery by creating an Ad Interim Study Committee whose members are appointed by the Moderator and are representative of various positions within the PCA with respect to women’s involvement in diaconal ministries. Members of this committee need to include, but not necessarily be limited to: TE Jimmy Agan, TE Ligon Duncan, TE Tim Keller, TE Phil Ryken (contingent, of course, upon their willingness to serve). This committee is to study and report back

to the 37th General Assembly on the following:

  1. Scriptural teaching bearing on the role of women in diaconal ministry.
  2. Is the Book of Church Order more, or less, restrictive than the Scriptural teaching bearing on the role of women in diaconal ministries? If so, what potential changes to the BCO (in keeping with any findings proceeding from the study of Scripture) might be considered for future presbytery overtures?
  3. Offer pastoral advice on what might be an appropriate range of practices related to women serving in diaconal ministry and give guidance regarding our current differences in practice among PCA churches.

And further, that any expenses for this Ad Interim study committee be funded through designated gifts through the Administrative Committee with expenses not to exceed $10,000 (RAO 9-2, 11-11).

Grounds

  1. Both historically and currently there exists a diversity of thinking among learned Reformed Biblical scholars and theologians concerning the role of women in diaconal ministries. There are conservative Reformed thinkers (past and present) who hold to positions more open to involvement of women in diaconal ministries than certain interpretations of the language of the BCO.
  2. Presently, there are PCA presbyteries struggling to address the variety of practices in their churches regarding the involvement of women in diaconal ministry.
  3. There are elders, churches, and presbyteries concerned that the variety of practices across the PCA on this matter may be neither in line with Scripture nor the BCO and are troubled as to how such different practices can exist within our confessional and constitutional church.
  4. Given the existence of a variety of practices on this issue, many have found the language of BCO 7-2 and BCO Chapter 9 to be insufficient to answer questions such as those from Overture 9 from the Philadelphia Presbytery:
  5. May churches choose not to ordain any male deacons?
  6. May churches choose to commission but not to ordain male deacons?
  7. May women be commissioned as deaconesses without ordaining them as deacons?
  8. May the same constitutional questions, or similar questions, used to ordain deacons be used to commission deacons or deaconesses who are not ordained?
  9. May churches elect ordained men and commissioned women to serve together in the diaconate?
  10. May churches use the title Deaconess for an elected position of ministry in the church or selected to serve according to BCO 9-7?
  11. There would be value in offering our congregations an historical and a comprehensive, exegetical, and hermeneutical analysis of Scripture’s teaching concerning the role of women in diaconal ministries.
  12. We recognize that there are elders and congregants whose consciences are troubled because they believe that according to the teaching of Scripture, women may serve as deacons.

The undersigned elders who represent a wide variety of positions and practices wish this matter to be studied to provide clarity on these issues that will promote greater unity and charity throughout the Church.

TE Vito Aiuto, Metro New York

TE David Keithley, Northern Illinois

TE Tuck Bartholomew, Philadelphia

TE Jeffrey Lancaster, Covenant

TE Cal Boroughs, Tennessee Valley

TE Stuart Latimer, Chicago Metro

TE Brannon Bowman, Savannah River

TE Scott Lindsay, SE Louisiana

TE Stephen Casselli, SW Florida

TE John MacRae, Susq. Valley

RE Dan Carrell, James River

RE Richard Mercer, Western Canada

TE Bryan Chapell, Illiana

RE Doug Pollock, North Texas

TE Craig Childs, Piedmont Triad

RE Bob Rush, Susquehanna Valley

TE David Dickson, James River

RE Joe Street, Westminster

TE Charles Godwin, Georgia Foothills

TE William Sofield, South Florida

RE David Haigler, Louisiana

TE Doug Warren, N. New England

TE Giorgio Hiatt, Central Carolina

RE John Weiss, Southeast Alabama

TE Larry Hoop, Iowa

TE Stephen Welch, Eastern Canada

TE Andy Jones, Eastern Carolina

Similarly, pp. 212-213 of that GA records this action:

That Overture 19 (“Decline to Erect Study Committee on Deaconesses”) be answered with reference to the Committee’s actions regarding Overture 9, with the following minute explanatory:

The only action requested by Overture 19 that is properly before the General Assembly is the request to decline to establish a Study Committee. There is no BCO amendment being proposed, and a request to reaffirm is out of order (Robert’s Rules 10th Edition, Section 10, page 100, line 10).     Adopted

OVERTURE 19 from Central Georgia Presbytery (to OC)

“Decline to Elect Study Committee on Deaconesses”

Whereas, two presbyteries have recently overtured the General Assembly which is scheduled to meet next month in Dallas, Texas, seeking to form a study committee for the purpose for determining whether our Book of Church Order (the BCO) should be revised to permit the ordination of women as deacons; and

Whereas, the same overtures further assert that if the General Assembly, with or without a study committee report, should determine that the BCO should not be so amended, that it then consider permitting our churches to “commission” women as deacons without ordination.

Now therefore be it resolved by Central Georgia Presbytery at a regular meeting held at Vineville Presbyterian Church, Macon, Georgia, as follows:

  1. That there is no legitimate theological dispute concerning who may be ordained as a deacon inasmuch as 1 Timothy 3:12-13, and other passages, plainly provide that the office is limited by God to men only; and
  2. That there is no biblical warrant for establishing a process of “commissioning” people to perform the duties of an ordained deacon, or elder, so as to side step the plain limits the scripture places on who may hold such offices; and
  3. That it has long been the policy of the PCA that “No one who holds office in the Church ought to usurp authority therein, or receive any official title of spiritual preeminence, except such as are employed in the Scriptures” BCO 7-3; and
  4. That we regard the overtures of Philadelphia and West Canada Presbyteries a clear challenge to a vital provision of the Westminster Standards which ought to be resisted and rejected without appointment of any study committee; and
  5. That we hereby express our decided opposition to these overtures, both substantively and procedurally such that we urge the General Assembly to decline to appoint the requested study committee, to decline to amend the BCO, to decline to authorize a new process of “commissioning of females as deacons,” and to reaffirm its

commitment to but two biblically authorized ordinary and perpetual classes of office in the church, that of elder and of deacon, both to be held only by men.

  1. That nothing in this Resolution is intended to oppose the authority of a Session to select and appoint godly men and women of a congregation to assist the Diaconate in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need, all as currently provided by BCO 9-7.
  2. That this Resolution be spread upon the minutes of this Presbytery and a second original duly executed by our Clerk and Moderator, be forwarded immediately to the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly electronically and by regular mail. Adopted by Central Georgia Presbytery, at its stated meeting, May 10, 2008

Attested by /s/ TE James E. Shipley, Stated Clerk

[1] PCA 44th General Assembly Commissioner’s Handbook. Pgs. 306-307.